|One of Mersea Museum's latest acquisitions (April 2022) has come about as a result of an article I wrote about a Dissenters Chapel
(Congregational) that existed in Great Wigborough. There is still a United Reformed Church chapel on the site of the original 1750
building and, because of nineteenth century boundary changes, is now in Tiptree.
[see Great Wigborough Congregational Chapel ]
An eighteenth century minister of the chapel was Joseph Picknett, and Mersea Museum was contacted by a family, who having Googled his name, found my article.
It turns out they had a letter from Picknett, dated 1776, and they were enquiring as to whether the Museum would like to have it. Of course, the answer was 'yes' and this charming letter and the most beautifully handstitched patchwork bag in which it had been kept has been donated to the Museum.
I begin with some of the contents of the initial letter from Mary Lamb of South Woodford on 8 March 2022 offering the letter to the Museum with accompanying photographs.
The [following] letter was contained in a hand-sewn lined patchwork bag made up of small printed cotton hexagons and this bag also appears very old.
With the letter and cloth bag was a note written by my grandfather in 1960 and stating as follows
'This letter dated 1776 in the enclosed
hand-sewn case was said by my Father
to have come into my Grandmother's
possession possibly in about 1860.
At that time there was a long upper
room in the square stone-dashed house
opposite the 'Six Bells', Bocking used as a
meeting room for non-conformists
who joined the Wesleyans when their
church was opened in 1868 at Rayne Road,
The letter was left behind by a lay
preacher who spent the night at my
grandmother's when engaged to preach
at this meeting room. How it came into
his possession is not known'
The 1776 letter is addressed
Mrs Ardley at Rivnal
to be Left at Mr Nicholls
I am sorry that \at/ our Last Interview you should Charge me with Great
Coldness & Indifferency towards you Seeing that you will know the
cause was not in or from me wholy owen to your own friends
or Children who had not only been trying by various scheems to
break off our Connection together but I find they had Imployed
others by false Inservations to blacken my Charicter & Render me
frightful to your mind but thanks be to God who hath hitherto kept
me so that my Greatest Enemies Can not fasten any Charge of Guile
upon me, Not but there is Enough within to Condemn Me before God
I was also Displeased with your Conduct towards me but I Pass it
by & forgive it for C[hris]ts Sake and now I have further to observe
that as we appointed another Interview on Wednesday next
we did not Consider that Next week being Whitsun week & that on
the Tuesday there will be a service [at?] Coggeshal afore noon to
which I Generly Go I thort it might be more suitable & agreeable
to you to meet me there & we might do our buisness more
Privatly then & better then in Going on Purpose and if so we
might marry that week & thereby Put a Stoop to all further talk
and Controversie about us and I think much for the better for both
I would further advise you as you Love your own Peace & not to
Regard or harken to any tale bearer or tattler that would Prejudice
your Mind Draw of your affections or Lessen your Esteme towards
me by Insinuating that we might not Live happily together
whereas I cannot see any Reason why we should not Live as happy
as any two in the world the short time we have to Live in it Especialy
as you seem to Like a Retire way of Life & neither of us seek Great
things nor are we like to want for needful Mercy etc
nor would I have you In the Least Imagin that I Do not Love you
as I should because I Do not use that Parade of fauning flatter[y?]
[partly illegible due to fold in the letter]...Promises [and Protests?]... as many Do to Decieve the
Simple Seeing I always Desire to Demean My self with Plainn[ys?]
and honesty as in the sight of God & hope to Do better then I Promise
Seeing Promises are but the Puff of airy wind & this I know that
those who are most free in Promising are seldom Careful in
Performing. whereas I am Consious & Difident of my own weakness
and Certain that Every Idle word will be bro[ugh]t into Judgement &
hence I am Careful of my Promises Either to God or Man
but to conclude should you become my wife I am Confident of this
that you will have a better opportunity of attending to the Concerns
of another world then Ever you have had or May have Else were
May God of his Infinite Grace & Mercy Prepare us Daily for his heaven\ly/
will & Pleasure thro Jesus C[hris]t our Lord Amen so Prays your
Sincere friend & Ser[van]t In C[hris]ts Every Good wor\k/
Great wigborough Essex Jos[eph] Picknett
may 24 1776
P.S. our situation is now very Pleasant therefore why any Longer
Delays if Ever to take Place. now if the Contents be agreeable to your
mind you May Invite Mr & Mrs Nichols, Or whoever Else you Please
and may the blessing of God Almighty father son & Holy Spirit as a Spirit
of Grace Rest upon us & ours & upon the whole Israel of God now
and Evermore Amen
Joseph Picknett seems to have been baptised on 26th April 1717 at St Botolphs without Aldgate in London by his parents Joseph and Sarah Picknitt (note spelling) of Vine Street.
He married Mary Williams on 8th June 1742 at St Ethelburga, Bishopsgate, London and, having spent some years in London, became Minister
of the Dissenters Chapel at Great Wigborough in 1762.
I cannot find when Mary, his first wife died, but Joseph married Sarah in 1776 when he was about 59, he was twelve years older than Sarah. Their Marriage licence bond and allegation, an alternative to reading banns in church and probably necessary given the objections to their marriage, is held by Essex Records Office
In the baptismal register for Great Wigborough Chapel on the opening pages he lists all his own children and all those of Sarah Ardley.
[National Archives RG4/599]
He refers to my three children's birth now living which would indicate he and Mary possibly did have more children who died in infancy or childhood. The entry for his son Samuel is particularly detailed, the later two entries partly illegible because of a torn page.
1) Samuel the son of Joseph Picknett and of Mary his wife was born in White Lion Street in the parish of St Mary's White Chapple London on the 15th of April at 6 o'clock in the Evining baptised May 17 1743 by Mr Saml Stockell
2) Martha the Daughter of Joseph P......
of Mary his wife was born .......
Parish &c April the 7th at 7 o Clock ....
was baptised May the 11 17....
3) Joseph the son of Josep[h]
his wife was born...
august the 4th at two
Joseph lists the two daughters of his brother Moses, also baptised in the parish of St. Mary's, Whitechapel.
The minister who baptised Picknett's son in Whitechapel, Samuel Stockell, interestingly, was a previous minister at Great Wigborough
Chapel from 1729 - 1743 as well as being a prominent Dissident preacher in a London Meeting House. Clearly Picknett knew Stockell in London and both Joseph and his brother had connections with the Whitechapel church for some years.
We are told in Peggy Chaplin's history of the Great Wigborough Chapel that Picknett continued at Great Wigborough Chapel until 1780
although amongst his last entries in the baptismal register is the birth of his grandson, John Catchpool, described as being
born morning early on October 11th 1781. Joseph had written his will earlier in the year so it is likely he was already becoming frail and had possibly already stepped down as the chapel's minister.
Joseph Picknett died in 1782 and the National Archives hold his will. He requested he be buried with his first wife, Mary, at the Great
His marriage to Sarah had lasted just six years and in his will he describes her as my dear wife leaving her clothes, furniture
and rents arising from two farms which appear to belong to her, presumably from her first husband, as well as money for mourning clothes. He also leaves money to the poor amongst his 'Hearers' (ie congregation); his three children, widowed sister-in-law and two nieces are remembered in his will.
By then, daughter Martha had married John Catchpool of Colchester and Picknett appoints the latter as his executor together with his
son Samuel Picknett. Among his friends remembered in the will is John Wilkin of Tolleshunt Knights who was active in the Chapel and a
member of the Wilkin family who were to develop Wilkin & Sons Jam Factory in Tiptree.
[See Will of Joseph Picknett 1781 National Archives PROB 11/1093/63 ]
Sarah was born in 1729 to a prominent Quaker family, the Kendalls of Colchester, a branch of which were benefactors who built the Kendall Almshouses. She was baptised in Colchester's Quaker Meeting House and her parents were Thomas and Sarah Kendall who also had a son, Thomas (1727 -1784), both father and son were Colchester distillers.
Sarah married Benjamin Ardley on 26th October 1750 at St Peter's Church, Great Totham and they had 15 children some of whom died in infancy or childhood.
The opening page of Picknett's baptismal register is torn and his list of Sarah's children damaged. The Christian names of Sarah's children are lost whereas their birth dates are still legible. This page was written shortly after Picknett's marriage to Sarah.
the folowing is the amount of the ages or birth
of the Children of my wife Sarah by her former
Husband Benj[ami]n Ardley Late of Cressing Essex
Sarah Ardley Born July the 11th 1751
...died. 3 Eliz A Born Nov[embe]r the 27 1753 Died aged 11
Benja[mi]n Ardley Born Dec[embe]r the 1st 1754
... Ardley Born Nov[embe]r 21 1756
... Ardley Born Aug[u]st 2d 1758
... dley Born April 11 1760
..... Born Jan the 24 1762
... month 1763
... born Jan the 20 1765
... [bo]rn Octo[be]r 16 1766
... [J]an[uar] y 1768
... May 20 1769
... about April 1771
... Died 24 hours Nov 1773
Benjamin Ardley died in 1775 and the following year Sarah , at the age of about 47, married Joseph Picknett.
Sarah died in 1790, outliving Joseph by eight years and was buried in All Saints' Churchyard, Cressing, with her first husband, the village where they seem to have spent most of their married life. Under Sarah's entry in the burials register on 15th May is a note 'Inhabited this parish'.
Joseph's letter gives a rare glimpse into the personal life of this non-conformist preacher in the 18th century, revealing opposition to the proposed marriage by both Sarah's children and those around her. Was it due to his being a Dissenter and not Church of England, or more to do with money? I believe the two farms mentioned in Picknett's will were left Sarah by her first husband, Benjamin Ardley, who we know from the 1774 poll book had freehold land in Rivenhall. The letter reveals Joseph to be a man of strong faith which was central to his life; he is direct, sure of himself and yet kind, thoughtful and considerate. Above all he did seem to genuinely love Sarah and thought them well-suited!
Then there is the unknown lay preacher who came to preach at the non-conformist meeting room opposite the Six Bells in Bocking and accidentally left behind the letter, so carefully preserved over 80 - 90 years in its patchwork bag. Was he a descendant of Joseph's who had followed his example and become a non-conformist preacher? We will probably never know, but to carry the letter around with him all those years later indicates how much it meant to him.
Peldon History Project
Thanks to Mary Lamb and family
Great Wigborough Congregational Chapel
Will of Joseph Picknett 1781
A Mixture of Memories by Peggy Chaplin (Tiptree United Reformed Church history)